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Billings school district prepared whether kids end year in classroom or not

School board hears update from department leaders
Posted at 3:00 PM, Apr 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-14 17:00:13-04

Billings public school teachers are prepared to finish the school year with online classes while the school district prepares for the possibility of kids heading back to the classroom, Billings School District 2 Superintendent Greg Upham said at a Monday board meeting.

"As the superintendent of school district number 2, I'm comfortable if we have to go in this format for the remainder of the school year. It will be a little bit challenging ... in trying to identify proficiency and grade level expectations. Those will be challenges that we'll be faced with next fall," Upham said.

Upham said he's had conversations with building administrators and Yellowstone County public health officials about what it would look like to have students come back to the classroom.

“We would have to maximize the distance between students in the classroom to the best of our ability. And then also maybe look at reducing populations in the building," Upham said.

If it's deemed safe for students to go back to class, they may be split up into groups and come to school on different days. The goal would be to keep fewer people in the school buildings at a time.

“I think next week, there will be more information about what the future holds for all of this," Upham said.

If students end up in class this year or next, district staff said student proficiency will have to be looked at in order to make decisions on course material in the future.

"It’s really up to that teacher to identify if that student is proficient based on the skills they have shown and demonstrated within the classroom or the virtual classroom at this point," said district assessment coordinator Roger Dereszynski.

ACT testing for high school juniors has been arranged to take place in October next school year, Dereszynski said.

The bulk of the meeting contained updates from executive directors of various school departments. Trustees heard from school food service provider Sodexo about expanded meal delivery and weekend meals.

“We’re trying to spread out to where a lot of these parents and family members can not get to the sites to get meals for their students. We’ve been trying to expand as much as possible," said Sodexo General Manager Sid Taylor.

Sodexo started a new delivery truck servicing Billings West End on Monday. It operates alongside a truck delivering school meals in the Heights.

Starting Friday, Taylor said Sodexo will offer two meals of breakfast and lunch for kids to take home on the weekend. This will help offset the increase in use of the Billings Education Foundations Backpack Meal program.

“We’ve seen a great increase in need for these backpack meals," said Taylor. "Starting this Friday, in addition to that we are also going to be providing breakfast and lunches in a backpack meal for any family that requests it."

Families who need the weekend meal can request it by visiting the school district's web site.

Taylor said Sodexo is prepared to keep serving in this fashion until the end of the year.

“It’s unfortunately becoming normal now to be serving like this. If we need to, we will continue to do this throughout the rest of the school year as we roll into the summer feeding program. Hopefully we are back in session. But if not, we are ready to continue to expand and grow as needed throughout the community," Taylor said.

Spring school activities and sports have the possibility of having a season if kids go back to school. Activities and Athletics Director Mark Wahl said the Montana High School Association is holding off on a final decision.

“Basically, the memo said that if we get back to some face-to-face learning by the first of May, we could possibly have some type of season. Which I think would be great for the kids. If not, it’s likely we’ll have to cancel the remaining part of the spring season," Wahl said.

Drivers education classes are still taking place online. However Wahl said students haven't been able to do the physical driving portions. He said he's waiting on decision from the state Office of Public instruction on how Billings' approximately 230 drivers ed students will take their physical driving lessons.